“Rex and his Purty Gal” is a story in an old American comic tradition. With its O. Henryesque ending and its affectionate send-up of fearlessly stereotypical characters and situations, it is a story which, if it had had Ring Lardner’s name attached to it, might have been found (with just a few adjustments of some euphemisms relating to the male gaze) in The Saturday Evening Post of almost a century ago.
Rex and his Purty Gal
by Philip O’Melia
Rex O’Herlihan, the singing cowboy, was about to drop his trademark bowtie and spurs into a dumpster on a country road that bordered his ranch, but thought better of it. Instead, he had them bronzed and was now trying to place them on his mantle in such a way that Carla would not find them instantly repugnant.
He stepped back – there, that was good, the tie in the middle with a spur standing upright at each end. He looked to his left at the latest atrocity Carla had brought into his house, a green splotchy painting on the sun wall over there. There were small golden blobs scattered along the bottom that looked something like helmets. What was it, the Conquistadors of Mexico lost in a swamp? In truth, Rex would have preferred looking at that painting of dogs playing poker. Now he had to look at helmet things that might or might not be sitting on heads, you couldn’t tell.
The thing was, Carla had a slim willowy figure like in his fantasies, and wore fancy clothes like you see in the magazines. Whereas all his life he had been meeting only hefty bruisers down at the bar, most with tattoos and jeans likely as not torn. Then out of nowhere this gal Carla comes by like right off a movie screen and starts attaching herself to him! He couldn’t believe it!
Rex called her and told her he put some things on the mantle he wanted her to see, the idea being that if he made a fuss about it, like it was important to him, she might relent and let the trash remain.
Her voice was shrill as usual. “You want me to come over right now? Listen Rex…..just expect me when you see me, OK?” then hanging up just like that, not giving an inch. No doubt about it, he was stuck.
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Rex would need a new job to satisfy her, one with a regular income and not the sporadic few bucks he brought in as a singing cowboy while living off inheritance. The only one he knew with a regular job was his pal Chuck, who ran an antique shop. Maybe it was time to go see him, talk about things, maybe get advice.
Rex followed a wooded road to a group of low-rent commercial buildings not far from town. He pulled into the dirt lot of a tall, flat building that looked almost like a fort. Plate-glass windows on either side of the door showed a variety of antiques, some of it ornate furniture that looked expensive. The windows were clean. Maybe Chuck was making a go of it. A hand-lettered sign above the door read “Chuck’s Old Things.”
A cigar-store Indian stood just inside the entrance to Chuck’s shop, arm upraised, about to hatchet a customer on his first step in the place. You could tell it was new though, recently cut out with a chain saw, all sharp angles and rough spots. Its nose was a rectangle, a bit of it splintered. Rex eyed the price tag dangling from its wrist - $250.
Chuck, a burly guy, sat with clipboard behind a glass counter that displayed mostly old jewelry. A small bowl of jellybeans stood next to the register on top, along with business cards and a credit-card device.
“You can get that much for a cigar-store Indian?”
Chuck looked up over the rim of his glasses. “Oh, hi Rex, how’s it going? Yeah, it’ll get dickered down to $180 or so, but that rustic stuff is really hot with the upscale set.”
“Looks like beavers chewed it out.”
“They work hard then - took the guy four days with a saw.”
Rex asked some questions and found out Chuck took 50% of the sales price for things on commission, meaning the guy who did the Indian would get $90 for four days’ work. Rex asked what he could bring him to make some quick bucks? Chuck said you never knew what would sell - yesterday someone bought a Howdy-Doody wrapper from the 1950’s. Rex couldn’t believe it, where did Chuck get something like that, and found out about warehouse finds where old things like that showed up in large quantities sometimes. As Chuck explained things, Rex eyed the items around the store – tons of stuff everywhere. That was it, really – you had to start out with tons to make anything close to a regular income. Rex thanked Chuck and popped a jellybean in his mouth as he left.
It was already dark out. Rex could go home, where Carla might be waiting, or he could go to the bar. No matter where you go, there you are. Might as well be the bar at this point, where Rex could consider his situation over beers.
Rex sat at the end of the bar, near the pool tables. He tried to think above the usual barroom din with blasting rock music he mostly didn’t recognize. He had to get a new job to carry his new purty gal - a real job this time, with a regular income. Like a Banker or something.
During his fourth beer at the bar, a hefty girl approached his barstool and shouted if he would like to shoot a game of pool with her? Rex said sure. Then she leaned in and shouted “Thanks, I appreciate it a lot,” an odd thing to say in the macho bar atmosphere. But it made Rex feel better as he inserted his quarters in the slots to rack the balls.
His focus was on her at the table. She had only one tattoo he could see, a barb-wire thing around her wrist like a bracelet.
When she leaned over the table, Rex got a pretty good view of her cleavage. One thing about the hefty girls was they were never afraid to show off their breasts.
She laughed if she missed a shot, but if she made a shot she put a dead-serious look on her face, like from that point she was going to run the table. But then she laughed easily again when she missed another shot. That was OK, Rex felt comfortable with her, drinking more beers while at the table. When she leaned on the table this side, Rex stole a glance at her queen-sized butt – not at all like Carla’s little globes back there.
When Rex left the bar, his head swimming from alcohol, he drove slowly - hardly ever a cop on these country roads, but if so they’d be looking for erratic driving.
Carla was waiting for him in the porch-light glow of his ranch house, her slim figure there on the porch, light as a mosquito, arms crossed. But something was different about her in the glow-light. She was smiling, instead of the usual stern face poised toward anger.
“About time,” she said still smiling, then took him by the wrist and began leading him into the house, like leading a child.
“I just bought something I know even you would like,” she said, leading him towards his den. Rex watched her from behind, her thighs sliding in her thin-as-a-slip dress, her simple walk as erotic as a sex video. He was overwhelmed!
At the door to his den she motioned with her arm toward the inside, grinning at him. “Take a look!” she said.
The first thing Rex noticed was his tie and spurs were gone from the mantle, and he asked her where they went. “Oh Rex, please! They’re in that dumpster, you know the one? But look what I got!” she said, motioning with a shift of her arm.
Rex followed her arm and saw the cigar-store Indian standing in a corner of his room, arm with hatchet upraised. Carla said: “Isn’t it great! And only $250!” Rex looked at the same Indian he saw only hours before and thought a sham. Then Carla said: “So don’t you dare think I never think about you!”
Rex made his way to his armchair and sat down heavily. Those beers were really starting to catch up. Carla knelt in front of his chair and looked up at him with a sweet and imploring look – she did good, right? – making Rex want to hug and absorb the tiny little waif.
The beers were really hitting now. Rex let his gaze drift to the Indian – he hated that poorly-done splintered nose. He turned back to Carla’s upturned face, the delicate pretty features now definitely in questioning mode and poised toward anger. “What?” Carla asked. She stood up. “Are you drunk? Come on Rex, you like the Indian, right?”
Rex said: “Thanks, I appreciate it a lot.” He let his head rest against the back of his armchair, then passed out drunk.